ICE AND FIRE | Hail and Hearths

DIG DIARY | Week 1

The rescue archaeology fieldwork on Eston Hills, Teesside, kicked off on Thursday 20th July with volunteers gathering in the Flatts Lane country park centre, the dig headquarters. The weather in the first three days has – as one might expect at the beginning of the summer holidays – been a mixed bag, but not enough to deter the team! Both the volunteers and the project staff have been in high spirits with multiple finds already discovered across the site.

The Hills are Alive

The previous geophysical survey work highlighted a number of areas where features, including areas of burning, were likely to survive under the shallow, denuded peat. These are also areas where flint artefacts and knapping debris have been found on the surface.

The project involves a series of test pits and trenches which are excavated down to the natural, sandy substrate. The peat itself generally dates to the Neolithic period when the climate became wetter, and so any artefacts beneath are at least five thousand years old. All of the contents of each pit or trench are sieved to ensure all artefacts, even the tiniest flakes, are recovered. Unfortunately, the soils here are also acidic and so bone does not survive. However, we do have the wetland areas where future work will be undertaken to assess whether there is prehistoric archaeology in the base levels.

The Devil is in the Detail

Each excavated area is surveyed using a total station, mapped back to the national grid, so that we know their exact location. Any features are planned, half-sectioned, photographed, carefully recorded on context sheet forms, and then fully excavated. Soil samples are taken for even more careful analysis. Wet sieving and flotation can provide environmental information as well as charcoal which can be used for radiocarbon dating, where suitable (hazelnuts are best!). Artefacts, so far just knapped flint, are individually plotted, bagged and labelled. Once off-site they are gently washed and dried ready for post-excavation analysis.

Features and Flint!

It is very rare to find features that date back to the Mesolithic or early Neolithic period. Yet, in the first few days, we have discovered a fire-pit or hearth filled with burnt stones – perhaps ‘hot stones’ from a meal, and before the advent of Britain’s first pottery around 3800 BC. We’ll be keeping our eyes open for any structural features such as stakeholes, postholes, ditches and floor surfaces.

Watch Ray Mears cooking in a fire pit (Youtube 4:14) »

Even more volunteers are booked for the coming two weeks, and we hope Anna Turley, MP for Redcar, will visit too. We are now reasonably confident that we’ll find more features and datable deposits that tell us not just about thousands of years of human activity, but also the present state of preservation.

– ICE AND FIRE Project Team

Learn more about the archaeology of Eston Hills »

A Note about Chronology

Dating nomenclature for British archaeological periods as defined by Historic England:

Post-Medieval After 1540 AD Bronze Age 2500 – 600 BC
Late Medieval 1066 – 1540 AD Neolithic 4000 – 2500 BC
Early Medieval 410 – 1066 AD Mesolithic c. 10,000 – 4000 BC
Roman 43 – 410 AD Palaeolithic Until c. 10,000 BC
Iron Age 600 – 43 AD Cal BC/AD Calibrated radiocarbon dates